The United States, Russia and China are working against a pact signed by 108 countries to ban cluster munitions that kill civilians long after conflicts, a leading international campaign group said on Monday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the 3 powers -- as well as others like India, Pakistan, Israel and South Korea -- were still pushing for a weaker United Nations treaty on the weapons although the pact was already in force.
"More than two years after adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the United States and other major military powers continue actively to resist the convention," a 224-page report by the group said.
The report -- Meeting the Challenge: Protecting Civilians through the Convention on Cluster Munitions -- was presented by HRW at the United Nations' European headquarters, seat of the world body-sponsored Conference on Disarmament.
The convention, negotiated outside the U.N. disarmament framework by countries frustrated at blockages in talks there, bans production, stockpiling and transfer of the weapons, which are dropped by air or fired by artillery.
Campaigners say they have killed thousands of civilians, with many deaths unrecorded in rural areas of poor countries where they have been deployed, since their first major use by the United States in Vietnam in the 1960s.
COLD WAR WEAPON
The weapon, designed during the Cold War to attack tanks and supporting troops in open warfare, scatters bomblets over a wide area which often fail to detonate immediately and can explode years after fighting is over.
The convention was signed in Oslo in December 2008 and went into force on August 1 this year when 46 countries had ratified it. Ratifications by others are pending.
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Several signatories have already destroyed their stocks, and others like Britain and France are in the process of doing so. But the countries HRW dubbed "resisters" have stood aloof, saying they prefer more gradual measures.
Later this week, diplomats from countries supporting the convention and their critics will meet for two days in Geneva in an attempt to push the U.N. process forward.
They are to hear a report from an expert group looking into the humanitarian impact of cluster weapons -- an exercise activists say is pointless.
"What is needed is a total ban as soon as possible," Bonnie Docherty, senior HRW arms researcher and author of the report told a briefing for negotiators and journalists.
"The facts on the ground show that cluster munitions inevitably kill and maim many civilians. Nations serious about stopping this suffering should join the ban convention and not settle for ineffective half-measures," she said.
The United States, which reported last year that it has a stockpile of 800 million cluster sub-munitions, says it will ban them by 2018 but still needs them in some combat situations and has taken measures to ensure they all explode on impact.
Russia and China, which have not revealed their stocks, probably each have about the same number, the HRW report says. Neither have made any public prediction on when they might decommission the weapon.
(Editing by Jonathan Lynn)